Sunday, April 26, 2009

Viewpoint: SB 1 and raising standards

Since 1990, Kentucky testing has had three scoring systems, each easier than the last. By easier, I mean two things.

First, we set new "cut points" when we changed from 1998 KIRIS to 1999 CATS and when we changed from the 1999-2006 version of CATS to the revised 2007 and 2008 CATS. At the moment that we put the new cut points to work, many more students were counted as proficient.

Second, we asked for less complex kinds of student performance. From KIRIS to CATS, we dropped performance events and added multiple choice. From "CATS I" to "CATS II" we gave multiple choice more weight than it had before.

Senate Bill 1 demands something different. It calls for P-12 standards to be aligned with college expectations, and it calls for international benchmarks to be taken into account. In short, standards will need to be higher, and initially, fewer students will be counted as meeting them.

That has some implications.

First, greater rigor deserves our support. The standards must be demanding without being impossible. As the standard-setting process happens, many voices should support aiming high.

Second, greater rigor means our educators will need support, too. SB 1 expects teacher education programs to equip new teachers to address higher standards well, and it expects statewide professional development to prepare current teachers for the new expectations. We can't let that support piece slip through the cracks. Making SB 1 work will require strong EPSB action, major KDE initiative, and responsible state budget decisions to support the changes we've put into law.

SB 1 is a major opportunity to set stronger, clearer standards and then deliver on them for Kentucky students.

(My special thanks to Roger Marcum for the conversation that helped me see this point clearly.)

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